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GOVERNMENT
Cayuga County residents can pay 2018 property taxes now to take advantage of federal deduction

Municipalities across the state are scrambling to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order authorizing local governments to accept early property tax payments so local taxpayers can take full advantage of state and local tax, or SALT, deductions.

The order, issued Friday, is a response to the federal tax bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Friday. The new bill, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, caps federal SALT deductions at $10,000. 

In Cayuga County, residents have the option to make early payments in person, online or through the mail, according to a press release from Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods.  

To make a payment in person, residents should contact their town tax collector to find out what hours the town will be open for collection through the end of this year. Payments made by mail that are postmarked on or before Dec. 31, 2017 qualify as being prepaid, as well as online payments made by 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31. Not all towns have the option of making property tax payments online, however. 

"While this was an executive order issued by the governor’s office at the last minute, the county has communicated with the city and all towns on this matter," Cayuga County Treasurer James Orman said in a statement. "We anticipate the city and towns will be prepared to collect prepayments as directed. If taxpayers have any questions as to how this effects their personal tax returns, we strongly urge them to contact their accountants or financial advisers as soon as possible.”

Property owners in Cayuga County towns will receive their bills in the mail during the first week of January and landowners in the city of Auburn will receive their bill the week after. However, those wishing to make an early payment can view their bills online at gis.cayugacounty.us/flexviewers/CCrpv/

The Auburn City Council held a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to approve the city's share of the 2018 Cayuga County taxes. The city was required to hold a special meeting due to language in the city's charter, Cayuga County Director of Real Property Services Kelly Anderson said. The towns will not need to hold a meeting. 

Auburn's share of county taxes is $8,424,428.45, or 21.2 percent of the county tax levy. Auburn's 2018 county tax bill is a 1.36-percent increase from 2017.

Councilor Dia Carabajal slammed Rep. John Katko for supporting the federal tax bill, which she said politically targets "blue states," while benefiting wealthy Americans and burdening the working class of New York.  

"Only some Auburnians will be able to take advantage of the resolution we pass here today," Carabajal said. "The swift and political maneuvering of Washington, D.C. has left us with very little time to react or even plan for this financial hardship. State and local governments are taking emergency action to help. Many taxpayers will not be able to come up with thousands of dollars suddenly between Christmas and New Years Day to pay taxes in advance."

"We are here to do what we can in the moment, but this federal tax plan will effect our quality of life for years to come," she added. 


Local
AUBURN
Auburn North Division Street hydro plant project nears completion

AUBURN — After wet summer weather extended construction work at the North Division Street Hydropower Plant into the winter months, the facility bordering the Owasco River successfully generated power Friday. 

Construction began on the $6 million project in the spring and was expected to be completed in August. However, a rainy summer and issues with rock excavation delayed construction and caused crews to work around the clock to get the job done.  

"We've had a number of crews from all over the United States and Canada working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get the project completed," City Manager Jeff Dygert said during the Dec. 21 Auburn City Council meeting. 

"It all came together here quite a bit in the last four weeks," Dygert added during a phone interview with The Citizen on Tuesday. 

Dygert said the project is "approaching the finish line." Over the next three to six weeks, crews will be working to "button things up," he said, including installing sidewalks, fencing and the new water control gate.  

"The heavy part of the project is complete," Dygert said Tuesday. 

Crews have already installed the new 1,174-kilowatt capacity turbine and built a new power house facility, Director of Capital Projects Christina Selvek said on Wednesday. The new turbine will be able to generate more electricity than the previous 1992 turbine, which produced 800 kilowatts.  

Selvek said the site has already been commissioned by New York State Electric and Gas. Crews from NYSEG had to witness Friday's test run and perform a series of tests so the city can lock in its rate for selling power to the grid, Dygert said. The next step is running through a performance checklist, which will take place through the month of January. Dygert expects the facility to begin generating power within the next month.  

Electricity generated from the plant is metered as it flows into the grid, Dygert said, and that electricity will be used to offset energy use throughout city buildings. According to Selvek, the facility will generate enough electricity each year to offset all electric usage at the city's wastewater plant.  

The project received a $1.2 million grant from the Empire State Development Corporation in December 2014. In May 2015, city council approved a $5 million bond for the project, for a total project cost of $6.2 million. 

Back in 2015, Selvek said the hydro facility will produce a net benefit of between $3.7 million and $8.6 million over 30 years. New projections are not available at this time, Selvek said. Comptroller Laura Wills said during an October city council meeting that she projects the project will be profitable during its first year in service. 

"We have made a lot of progress and the site improvements will complement nicely when we do the North Division Street bridge project as well," Selvek said. "That neighborhood will see a nice redevelopment of the waterfront."

Gallery: Work continues on North Division Street Hydroelectric facility

Eye_on_ny
NEW YORK
Cuomo grants clemency to 61 people, including immigrants facing deportation

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday granted clemency to 61 people, including immigrants facing deportation because of past criminal convictions.

Cuomo pardoned 18 people facing immigration-related legal challenges, including 15 who were convicted of nonviolent offenses but haven't committed any crimes for at least 10 years.

The notable pardons include Lorena Borjas, 57, a transgender woman from Mexico who now runs HIV testing programs for transgender sex workers and an advocate for immigrants and transgender people. A victim of human trafficking, she was convicted of fourth-degree criminal facilitation in 1994.

Cuomo also pardoned Freddy Perez, 53, for past drug offenses. Perez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, was convicted of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and third-degree attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in 1993. He now works as an electrician and cares for his younger brother, who has autism.

Alexander Shilov, 35, was pardoned by Cuomo for prior petit larceny and attempted petit larceny convictions when he was a teenager and addicted to drugs. An immigrant from Estonia, he has remained sober for 13 years and earned his general equivalency diploma. He now works as a nurse in Brooklyn and volunteers in New York's Medical Reserve Corps.

The pardons don't guarantee that the 18 immigrants, including Borjas, Perez and Shilov, will avoid deportation. But the gubernatorial actions will boost their cases to remain in the U.S.

"These New Yorkers have proved their rehabilitation, in some cases for decades, but have been unable to gain legal status or fully reenter society due to the stigma of conviction," Cuomo said in a statement. "While the federal government continues to target immigrants and threatens to tear families apart with deportation, these actions take a critical step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York."

Cuomo's pardons come as the federal government under President Donald Trump's leadership cracks down on undocumented immigrants, especially those with criminal backgrounds.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in November that immigration-related arrests increased nearly 40 percent in one year. More than 41,000 people were arrested on immigration charges, according to the agency.

Two New Yorkers with nonimmigration-related requests received pardons: 

• Christopher Cavallo, 66, was convicted of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance in 1977. He hasn't committed another crime since and now owns a Florida-based security firm. He operates an addiction recovery program in a women's prison and provides support to a shelter for children with cancer and HIV in Colombia. The pardon would help Cavallo run for elective office in Florida and obtain an advanced security license to grow his firm, according to the governor's office. 

• Mary Snook Downing, 58, used drugs after the death of her husband and son in 1985. She was convicted of possession of stolen property and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in 1987. She completed drug rehabilitation and has remained crime-free and sober since her conviction. Cuomo's office said she sought the pardon so that she could petition for legal guardianship of her 88-year-old mother, who lives in Florida and has dementia. 

Cuomo also announced that 39 New Yorkers who were convicted of misdemeanor and nonviolent crimes when they were 16 or 17 years old will be pardoned. Those receiving pardons haven't committed crimes for at least 10 years.

He has now granted clemency to 140 people through the Youth Pardon Program.

Two New Yorkers had prison sentences commuted by Cuomo Wednesday. Dominic Dupont, 39, has served more than 20 years of a 25 years-to-life sentence for second-degree murder and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Dupont was 19 when he killed another man while defending his twin brother. 

After leaving prison, Dupont will live with his wife in Brooklyn and work as an at-risk youth counselor. 

Michael Flournoy, 42, was sentenced to up to 50 years in prison for second-degree attempted murder and other charges, according to the governor's office. He developed a friendship with the victim and her son, who now consider him a member of their family, the governor's office said. 

Flournoy is a certified AIDS and HIV counselor and is a volunteer program coordinator of the Prisoner's AIDS Counseling and Education Program. He earned associate and bachelor's degrees from Bard College. When he exits prison, he will live with his family in Brooklyn. 


WASHINGTON
Senate will not consider Auburn native Buerkle for consumer safety chair

Ann Marie Buerkle, an Auburn native and former congresswoman, may not serve as chair of an independent federal agency after all.

The U.S. Senate returned Buerkle's nomination to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission to President Donald Trump last week, according to congressional records. It was one of nearly 100 nominations returned by the Senate due to objections raised by at least one senator.

The Senate usually rolls over consideration of nominations into the next year. But a nomination will be returned to the president if a senator objects. It's unknown which senator objected to Buerkle's nomination.

Because the Senate sent the nomination back to the president, Trump must renominate Buerkle or select someone else for the post.

"This is a procedural step where the White House submits paperwork again and the Senate Commerce Committee votes again prior to a Senate vote," said Joseph Martyak, director of communications for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "The acting chairman looks forward to a quick completion of the process early in the new year."

Buerkle's nomination to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission was criticized by consumer groups and some Democratic senators. At her confirmation hearing in September, she faced tough questions from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, about her position on regulations, including why she favored a voluntary standard instead of a mandate for manufacturers of portable generators.

A New York Times story published earlier this month didn't help Buerkle's cause. The story, titled "Trump Pick to Head Consumer Safety Board Is Seen as Too Close to Industries," outlined the concerns with her nomination and that she didn't usually support large penalties or tougher standards for the industries the agency regulates.

Public Citizen is one of the consumer groups that opposed Buerkle's nomination. Remington Gregg, the organization's counsel for civil justice and consumer rights, said one reason why they are concerned about Buerkle leading the agency is they don't think she believes in its mission.

"We have not seen a commitment from Ms. Buerkle ... We feel so strongly that she is the wrong person to lead this commission," Gregg said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Buerkle has been serving as acting chair of the commission since February. She ascended to the post not long after Trump was sworn in as president.

In July, Trump nominated Buerkle to chair the commission and serve a seven-year term. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology advanced her nomination in October.

Buerkle first joined the commission in 2013 when she was nominated by President Barack Obama for a seat on the five-member panel. She was recommended for the appointment by current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The majority of the commission, which oversees safety of consumer products ranging from off-road vehicles and portable generators to children's toys, is typically controlled by the party that holds the White House. When Buerkle was nominated by Obama, it was to fill one of two Republican seats on the panel.

When Trump took office and Buerkle became acting chair, she was in the unusual position of being the commission's leader while in the minority. Buerkle is now the lone Republican member of the commission after the departure of Joseph Mohorovic, who resigned in October to join a law firm.

Trump nominated Dana Baiocco, a Republican, to succeed Democratic commissioner Marietta Robinson on the panel. Robinson's term expired in October. However, like Buerkle, Baiocco's nomination was returned to the president.

Buerkle was born and raised in Auburn. She began working as a registered nurse until graduating from the Syracuse University College of Law in 1994. She was an assistant New York state attorney general for 12 years before opting to run for Congress in 2010. She defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei by 648 votes.

She served in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013. She lost her re-election bid to Maffei in 2012. But she wasn't out of government long. Obama appointed her to the Consumer Product Safety Commission four months after she left Congress.